Wanted: Election workers for Cook County

Thousands of workers are needed to fill vacancies in the suburbs.

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Election workers help voters before they cast their ballots at a South Side elementary school during the 2022 Illinois primary on June 28.

Election workers help voters before they cast their ballots at a South Side elementary school during the 2022 Illinois primary on June 28.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Cook County is sending out an urgent SOS before the November general election — and if you’re a resident with time to spare, we urge you to answer the call.

Suburban polling places are drastically understaffed, and Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough is targeting military veterans in a campaign to fill 7,000 election judge vacancies before the Nov. 8 election.

“Rather than saying, ‘We want you,’ like they did for the military,” Yarbrough said at a press conference Tuesday to unveil the campaign, “we’re saying, ‘We need you.’”

If you’re a veteran — or anyone else — willing to step up and serve, Cook County needs you.

Editorial

Editorial

Yarbrough’s office has about 4,350 people already signed up to work at suburban polling places on election day, but there’s still a shortage of 7,000 workers “to adequately cover” all of them, she said.

The local campaign to recruit military veterans is part of a nationwide effort called “Vet the Vote.” It’s a much-needed initiative: Since 2018, more than 130,000 poll workers have dropped out across the country.

That’s not surprising, for a number of reasons experts point out, including the worker shortage that’s emerged across all industries since the pandemic, plus retirements — in the Chicago area, election judges are on average 65 to 70 years old.

Understaffing also leads to burnout among judges. “If there’s one person in a precinct, we’re putting a heavy weight of democracy on their shoulders,” said Ed Michalowski, the county’s deputy clerk of elections.

Election judges earn $200 a day; polling place technicians earn $365. Workers are especially needed in the north and northwest suburbs.

Last week, we made a pitch for more civic participation by Chicago-area residents as one way to ensure the nation’s democracy — and its cornerstone, fair elections — remain strong.

Consider this another pitch. Visit cookcountyclerk.com/work to apply.

The Sun-Times welcomes letters to the editor and op-eds. See our guidelines.

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